The Gilded Hour Page 8

“Inspector Comstock! Inspector!” he roared, spittle flying. “You will give me my title!”

“Inspector Comstock,” Baker said, coolly. “Allow me to answer your questions one at a time. I find it hard to believe you don’t know what’s happening on Fifth Avenue tonight. The Vanderbilts’ costume ball begins in a few hours. A third of the city’s uniformed officers will be there to control the crowds, and more than half these detectives will be patrolling the area in plain clothes. Those orders came to us by order of the mayor, the governor, and the senators of the state.”

Comstock’s fleshy mouth jerked and puckered. “Where are your priorities, sir? Do you put the petty concerns of the dissolute rich above the welfare of the youth of this city? These men are not needed on Fifth Avenue, I can assure you. Where are your morals?”

“My morals are as sturdy as your own,” Baker said dryly. “And my priorities are set by my superiors. I suggest you take this up with them, because I cannot accommodate you or your society.”

•   •   •

IN THE DETECTIVES’ squad room Maroney sat slumped, his legs stretched out before him like felled trees. A cigar was anchored beneath a mustache as glossy and thick as a badger’s pelt.

Jack said, “Sometimes I regret the captain’s sangfroid. I think with very little effort he might have caused Comstock’s head to explode just where he stood. An opportunity missed.”

“I would have liked to see that.” The cigar jerked with every word.

Jack sat at his desk to contemplate the stacks of paper needing his attention.

“I’m sure we could sell tickets at a premium to see that baboon’s head fly apart like a pumpkin,” said Maroney. “Set up chairs for the audience. Parasols, for the splatter.”

“The man has friends,” Jack reminded his partner.

“Not true,” Maroney said. “He has lackeys. He has compatriots. He even has admirers. But if he didn’t carry that pistol in his vest and the postmaster general in his pocket, he’d be easy enough to squash. As it is I wait daily for someone to put a bullet in his noggin.”

Jack said, “You’re forgetting about the Young Men’s Christian Association and his Society for the Suppression of Vice.”

Maroney waved his cigar like a magic wand that could make short work of such pallid adversaries. He was hoisting himself up and out of his chair when the door flew open and Michael Larkin dashed in, Comstock’s box of confiscated dirty pictures clamped under one arm. Without a word to either of them he leapt onto a desk, unlatched a high cupboard with one hand, and shoved the box in with the other.

Larkin was sitting at the same desk bent over a piece of paper when a patrolman came in, not a week in uniform. The kid ducked his head apologetically.

“Baker wants the whole station house searched,” he said. “Can I come in?”

He made a quick and superficial job of it, only glancing in Michael Larkin’s direction before he excused himself again and left.

There was a long silence.

Maroney cleared his throat. “Michael, my friend. Not on duty tonight?”

“No,” came the answer. The eldest of the Larkin brothers looked up at them and winked. “All of a sudden I’ve got quite a lot of reading to do.”

“Just out of the blue,” said Jack.

“Fell into my lap,” Larkin agreed amiably. “So to speak. Would you care to have a look yourself?”

Jack leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the desk. It had been a long day, starting at dawn in the greenhouses at home. He thought of the ferry, of ferocious Sister Ignatia and the orphans, of the lady doctor. Savard, they had called her.

He bent over the report in front of him but his mind stayed focused on that unusual face, Elizabeth or Mary, Ida or Edith or Helen. He fished the city directory out of a drawer and flipped through the pages until he found two listings: Sophie E. Savard and Liliane M. Savard living at the same address. Another mystery. One he would be looking into as soon as he could get away from Oscar.

•   •   •

WHEN ANNA CAME within sight of Washington Square she realized how tired she was. Surgery was hard work, physically and mentally exhausting, but even the most challenging case had nothing on Sister Ignatia and a crowd of orphans.

Coming home was like shedding a coat with bricks loaded into every pocket and sewn into the hem. The tension that had collected in her shoulders and back began to abate even before the house came into sight. Some days she might lament the demands of her profession, but she loved the house and garden on Waverly Place without a single reservation. During the year she spent in Europe, Anna had worked herself to exhaustion every day so that she could sleep at night in strange houses in stranger cities. In the end she had learned a great deal, about both surgery and herself. She belonged here, and nowhere else.

Anna went around the back, past the small carriage house and stable and the icehouse, stopping in the garden to say hello to Mr. Lee, who was turning soil in a steady, studied rhythm. Mr. Lee was a serious, fastidious, and deeply affectionate man. He had taught her how to tell weed from seedling, to button her shoes and tie a slipknot, how to slip eggs from under a hen without being pecked, and he knew a hundred ballads that he was happy to recite or sing. With a perfectly straight face Mr. Lee had taught her and Sophie a dozen tongue twisters that still made them laugh. Anna knew that if she was patient, he would observe things in his quiet way that he meant for her to hear.

Now he looked at the sky and predicted that contrary to appearances, winter had not given over. It was an odd turn of phrase, as though the winter were a bear getting ready for a long hibernation. To his shovel he remarked that neighbors who had already begun to clear away mulch would regret it. One more hard frost was coming, and it would take every unprotected tender new thing in the world. It would mean the end of the crocus and delicate Turkish tulips that had begun to raise their heads, a scattering like jewels all through the fallow beds and lawn.

Mr. Lee was seldom wrong about the weather, but just at the moment Anna couldn’t worry about such things. Not while she stood in the garden, knowing that in another month it would be warm enough to sit in the pergola in the soft shadow of blossoming apple and tulip trees.

The garden was her favorite place in the world. As a little girl, before Sophie, she had had the garden to herself until the war took that away, too. When their father fell in battle, Uncle Quinlan’s grandchildren were at the house most days, and from them she had learned what it meant to share more than toys and books and stories.

Someplace along the way Anna had fallen into the habit of calling Aunt Quinlan Grandma, but the summer she turned nine Uncle Quinlan’s grandson Isaac Cooper, just a year older, had taken it upon himself to correct her. In a quavering and still strident voice he made himself clear: she had no grandparents, no parents, nobody, and he would not allow her to claim his grandmother as her own. To Anna she could be nothing more than Aunt Quinlan.

She hadn’t been a child given to weeping or one who retreated when play got rough. What kept her temper in check was the look on Isaac’s face, and the brimming tears he dashed away with an impatient hand. Anna told herself that he hadn’t really meant to be so mean; he had lost father and grandfather and two uncles to the war, after all, and news of his father’s death had come not three months ago.

Beyond that, he was both wrong and right. Isaac’s mother was Uncle Quinlan’s daughter and Aunt Quinlan’s stepdaughter, which meant that Isaac and Levi were not related to Aunt Quinlan by blood, as Anna certainly was. On the other hand, it did no good to pretend that she still had what was lost, and so she kept the sting of Isaac’s words to herself.

But Aunt Quinlan knew, because Isaac himself told her. He went to her, teary eyed, righteous in his indignation that Anna would try to take his grandmother from him. Anna never knew what Aunt Quinlan had said to him, how she had put his mind to rest, but that evening she called Anna into her little parlor, gave her a cup of hot chocolate, and waited while she sipped it. Then she simply pulled Anna into her lap and held her until the tears came and finally ended, leaving her boneless and trembling.

Anna said, “I want Uncle Quinlan back.”

“So do I,” said her aunt. “I still hear him coming up the stairs, and it’s always a terrible moment when I realize it was just wishful thinking. You know he would have come home to us if it had been in his power.”

Come home to us. To us.

Anna nodded, her throat too swollen with tears to allow even a single word.

Then Aunt Quinlan had hugged her tighter. “You are my own dear little sister’s sweetest girl,” she said. “And you belong here with me. When we lost your ma and then your da, every one of us wanted you, all the brothers and sisters. But I was the lucky one, you came home with me. And you may call me anything you like, including Grandma. My ma, your grandma, would have wanted you to, and I would be honored.”

But Anna couldn’t. After that summer the word wouldn’t come out of her mouth, whether Isaac was there or not. From then on the woman who was as good as a mother and grandmother to her was Aunt Quinlan, no more or less.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies